Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), facing a tricky path to passing government funding bills in the face of pressure from the GOP’s right flank to cut spending, is signaling that lawmakers will turn to a short-term stopgap funding bill when Congress returns in September.
But the move to buy more time comes with its own complications.
Demands from conservatives regarding Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security funding, a White House request for supplemental aid for Ukraine and right-wing skepticism about the length of a continuing resolution (CR) could all threaten to sink Congress’ move to avoid a shutdown after Sept. 30.
“McCarthy has been allegedly talking about, ‘Well, we’ll do a three-month CR into December.’ That’s exactly the playbook to try to get it done and to roll us,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said in a Spaces conversation broadcast on X, formerly known as Twitter, Monday night. “So we’re going to have to throw everything we have in fighting that heading into September.”
McCarthy told Republican lawmakers on a Monday evening conference call that he expects to move a continuing resolution, but does not want it to last so long that it jams up against the winter holidays, according to multiple sources on the call.
McCarthy stressed that he does not want a year-long continuing resolution and wanted to get spending bills signed into law that include policies preferred by Republicans, one source stressed.
The need for a CR had been widely expected. The House GOP passed just one of the 12 regular appropriations bills before leaving for the August recess and was forced to delay plans to pass another last month by conservative demands to slash spending and moderate unease with an abortion provision.
But McCarthy’s remarks this week were his most definitive yet that GOP leadership will turn to a stopgap.
In the slim House majority, Republicans will need support from Democrats if more than a handful of GOP members vote against the continuing resolution. Even before a vote on the final bill, hardline Republicans could potentially sink the stopgap if they vote against a procedural rule to allow its consideration on the floor.
And as Republican leaders juggle concerns from hardline conservatives on spending, more demands are being thrown their way.
Some of the new demands have been spurred by anger at federal prosecutors in light of charges against former President Trump and their handling of a tax case against the president’s son, Hunter Biden. Trump has been indicted in two separate federal cases. On Monday he was indicted on state charges in Georgia.
“I WILL NOT vote for any continuing resolution that doesn’t smash Biden’s DOJ into a million pieces,” Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas) wrote on X on Tuesday. “The DOJ has very rapidly become the enemy of the American people, and if nothing is done soon, our rights will be GONE. We MUST defund it!!”
Roy, meanwhile, is leading a push to oppose any stopgap or full-year spending bill that funds the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) without border policy changes, saying in June that he would “violently fight” not only any bill that funded DHS without those reforms, but any procedural steps to set up the vote.
Last week, fourteen other House Republicans from Texas signed on to a letter from Roy pledging to follow through on that promise — enough Republicans to sink any bill that doesn’t have Democratic support.
Democrats have opposed House GOP bills because they were written at levels below those in the debt limit deal struck between McCarthy and President Biden.
Asked ahead of the August recess, McCarthy did not appear inclined to support Roy’s push.
“I want my border secure. I’m going to fund my border,” McCarthy said.
And then there is the issue of Ukraine, which has been a lightning rod in the House GOP conference for more than a year and is once again dividing Republicans.
The White House unveiled a $40 billion supplemental funding request last week that includes $24 billion for Ukraine as Russia’s invasion of the country drags on. Shalanda Young, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the White House was requesting the supplemental “as part of a potential short-term continuing resolution for the first quarter of FY 2024,” as was done last year.
Congressional leadership has not yet said if it plans to pair the two measures. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) declined to say on a Tuesday call whether he would attach the supplemental to a continuing resolution, but said that Democrats want to “get a supplemental done as quickly as possible.”
The request is already prompting howls among House Republicans.
A contingent of conservative GOP lawmakers have opposed continued support for Ukraine, with some arguing that resources would be better spent on domestic matters like border security.
Those voices were loud and clear following the White House’s funding request, with 12 of them — some members of the House Freedom Caucus — writing a letter to President Biden expressing their “strong opposition” to the supplemental and asking that he rescind the request.
“Americans are tired of funding endless wars and want policies that not only help restore fiscal sanity in Washington, but also put America and American citizens first,” the lawmakers wrote.
Votes on curtailing funding to Ukraine split Republicans just a month ago. The majority of Republicans voted against two amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have blocked aid — but the amendments received the support of 89 and 70 Republicans, respectively.
Coupling a stopgap bill and the supplemental could heighten tensions on Capitol Hill. Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) would not say if he supports the White House’s funding request — “we’ll have to take a look at it” — but did stake his opposition to pairing the Ukraine funding in the supplemental with a continuing resolution.
“Ukraine money would not belong on a CR,” Griffith said. “In my opinion that’s a separate vote, we should take that separately.”
He did, however, express an openness to attaching additional money for FEMA — which is in the supplemental request — to a continuing resolution “because we’re dealing with the United States.”
The length of any proposed continuing resolution is also causing heartburn among GOP members.
Roy has floated the idea of passing a series of 24-hour continuing resolutions rather than one that lasts several months.
Griffith told reporters on Tuesday that he “could probably live with” a continuing resolution that lasts just a few weeks, proposing a two-week stopgap and then a one-week stopgap if necessary after that.
GOP leaders have downplayed the internal disagreements about the spending bills, arguing that their decision to go through the regular appropriations process rather than using a large omnibus like in years past will naturally result in disagreements.
Still, the calculus is further complicated because any spending measures will have to make it through negotiations with the Democratic-controlled Senate, which crafted its bills at the higher spending levels agreed upon in the debt ceiling deal. Those bills received bipartisan support in the Appropriations Committee.
In one sense, Congress has incentive to complete its funding work by Jan. 1, due to a provision in the debt limit bill passed earlier this year to automatically cut a continuing resolution across the board by one percent if Congress does not approve all its funding measures.
But Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) suggested that the one percent cut provision could actually be preferable to Democrats and the White House over cutting spending to be more appealing to hardline conservative Republicans.
“We had a conference call today with the Republicans about how important passing our appropriations bills are because it positions us for negotiation, when everyone on the call – including the people saying that – everyone listening knows that we are going to reach an impasse with the Senate, and we’re gonna go to a 99% continuing resolution,” Gaetz said in a Spaces conversation on X Monday night. “Joe Biden’s going to get 100% of what he wants, followed by 99% of what he wants.”
Al Weaver contributed.